Yellowstone – Day 2 – Beartooth Pass

We try to get up early so we can get on the road as early as possible. The girls were slow to move so we had to prod them a little. The hotel had a breakfast, but it consisted of frozen breakfast sandwiches or burritos that you had to throw into the microwave. They also had some cereal, yogurt, and pre-packaged muffins. So nothing real great. I believe we got on the road by 9am which is what I was shooting for.

And of Course, while we were leaving Red Lodge, I had to play……

Holiday Road…….!!

Beartooth Pass opens the Friday of Memorial Weekend through October. They begin plowing the roads in early to mid April. So we are only 5 days removed from the first day it opened. The following picture are the gates they close for the winter season.

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Gates to Beartooth Pass.
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Making our way towards the mountains.

We start the ascent up Beartooth. Red Lodge’s elevation is 5,568 feet so we begin our one mile vertical climb to 10,987 feet at the top of the pass.

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Start of the climb
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The beautiful view on the ride up
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You can see the road zig-zag on the side of the mountain.
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The enormity of things in the mountains throws off your depth perception a bit. In the following photo, we were going to climb up and touch the snow. It wasn’t until we got to the side of the road did we realize how steep the hill was and how high up the snow actually was.

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Deciding to NOT climb up to touch the snow.
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Marmots are plentiful on the drive up

Looking back on our path…..

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We continue the climb, Sophie in the middle of the other two girls and we are enjoying the views on the way up. Pulling off once in a while to take a quick picture.

About 3/4 of the way up is a nice scenic pull-off with toilets called Rock Creek Vista. At this point you are already 9,190 feet in elevation and it’s surprising how quickly you get there.

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Rock Creek Vista
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There’s a path away from the parking lot that gives way to a beautiful setting
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Scenery at the end of the path.
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Click on the photo for the full view
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Looking down at the road we just came up.
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A video of the vista….

There were also plenty of chipmunks at this overlook. Wish we would have had easier access to our bread, we could have fed them as I think they were expecting as much. They sure let you get close.

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Back down the path…

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Every once in a while we would come across a little stream from melting snow.

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We get to the top and it’s interesting how the land flattens out. You almost wouldn’t know you are 10,000 feet above sea level. Here we are just crossing the state border, leaving Montana and entering Wyoming.

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As stated before, we are only 5 days removed from the opening of this road for the season, so there was still plenty of snow towards the top.

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And of course a snowball fight ensued.

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I was back where the car was parked taking a video when the girls tried to throw snowballs at me.

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Here’s the video. It’s a minute long and their attempt to hit me is towards the end.

We continue our drive.

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Come across plenty of more snow.

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Snow right along side of the road that was a good 20 to 30 feet high.

Unfortunately we didn’t get any photos or video, but somewhere at this point is a summer ski area that is very primitive and only for experience skiers as the initial drop off was very steep. There were a number of skiers when we got there and we were driving slow, hoping to catch someone going over the drop but we never did.

Finally we see Beartooth Mountain….

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Can you all see the “bear tooth”?

And make it to the pass…

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Made it to the pass.

I actually missed the pass because I knew there was an area to pull off. Apparently they hadn’t plowed that off yet because all of a sudden we saw the sign and had to turn around to take pictures. We just pulled off to the side of the road. There was only us and two other vehicles parked there with a total of 4 other people. We noted two things while we were there, how QUIET it was up there and you noticed the lack of oxygen.

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Somewhere over there should be a parking area but it was not plowed out yet.
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We continue on and stop at a little frozen lake on the way-side.

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Mountains as far as the eye can see.
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More marmots
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Sophie the photobomber.
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Love the sky from up here
View of the frozen lake

We make our descent down and the snow starts to fade. We agreed that the way we came up was much better. It was steeper which made it more fun and also there was a limited amount of snow then suddenly it was a wall of snow.

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The road begins to flatten back out once we go down the valley.

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Looking back from Long Lake

We stopped at Long Lake….

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We had been driving for a little while now. The girls were getting a little sleepy at this point so just Heather and I jumped out of the car initially. Eventually Sophie came out. But Heather and I took a selfie….

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So we decide to take a picture of us kissing. Well Heather is holding the phone, trying to take a picture so she suddenly realizes can’t turn her head, take a selfie and snap the picture at the same time, so instead she turns her lips to the side in an ATTEMPT to kiss me.

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We started laughing at our kiss attempt to the point that Heather accidentally took a photo of herself….

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I never did get that full on kiss though.

Moving on…..

Appararently this is “Bear Country” I think I would classify it as Bison Country instead.

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We get down to Beartooth Lake…

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And come across construction

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Nowhere did I see anything about this area of construction. I had to do some digging after we got back but apparently they are building a bridge. It’s hard to explain what exactly they are trying to accomplish but essentially instead of the road zig-zagging along side of the mountain, it will draw a little more of a straight line across the valley. Huge undertaking given the terrain.

So we come across the construction and the guy in front of us tells us the pilot car just left so it’ll be 30 minutes before they get back. So we let the people behind us know and we decide to pull out the lunch as it would be a good time killer and saves us from stopping again further down the road.

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It was almost 30 minutes exactly and the pilot car was back. It took us on about a one mile trip along a one-lane road where it looked as though the other lane just fell off the side of the mountain. It was a little trippy.

The road winds back north into Montana again into Cooke City where we looked for bathrooms and a place to fill gas.

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Before this point, gas was pretty steady around $2.89/gallon. Here we are in the middle of nowhere and it was over $3. I believe we still had a half tank of gas but wanted to make sure we had enough so we filled. Also, you couldn’t use any of the bathrooms unless you were eating at the restaurant. None of the stores had bathrooms. Instead, you had to go to the public bathrooms at the west end of town.

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Public restroom area

Off we go, crossing back into Wyoming. We some some nice waterfalls as we drove

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Waterfall we saw while driving.
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We made it to the Northeast entrance of the park. I had purchased our pass online before we left. It’s $35 for a normal vehicle for a 7-day pass. The guy you see ahead of us had an RV so he parked and walked back to the entrance. He talked for a good 3 or 4 minutes from the time we arrived. Of course we were much quicker. We pull up, show them our pass I printed out, she gave us a park map, and off we went.

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Which brings up a good point. The park gives you really nice maps when you get there, so if you are looking for some online, just wait until you get to the entrance.

We get to Lamar Valley which is known for it’s wildlife. We did see plenty of Apparently if you want to see a variety of animals, stop here early in the morning or later in the evening OR come late in the season when there’s less traffic.

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We did see some variety including what I THINK are big horned sheep, but we only saw ewes and lambs, no rams.

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Of course we saw Bison…

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And quickly came across our first Bison traffic jam.

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Passing by a bison that helped cause a traffic jam.

This was just the start of the traffic jam as I’ll describe later on. We came upon the start of the jam as a group of bison were trying to saunter across the road and down the road. The car in the lead tried to push them along very slowly but the vehicle behind them didn’t follow very close so eventually the lead car was surrounded by bison. Thankfully this jam didn’t take too long to clear away before most of them ran down the valley.

Here’s a tip. PLEASE!! For the love of God. You don’t have to make an immediate stop every time you see a bison. DON’T WORRY!!! You’ll see more! We were sick of bison by the end of our trip we saw so many!!!

We reach Mammoth Springs in the northwest corner of the park. If you just drive the route with no stoppings it would take you roughly 2 1/2 hours to get from Red Lodge to Mammoth, 114 miles. I scheduled about 5 hours with all the stoppings and that’s exactly what we did. We arrived at Mammoth around 2pm and we maybe could have stopped even more.

So it’s 2pm and it is warm out and the area is very busy. There is a long line going out of one of the buildings as people are waiting for ice cream. We decide to stop in the Mammoth Springs village area to park and decide to walk to the actual springs as we didn’t think we would get a parking spot closer. After lathering up with some sunscreen and finding the bathroom we toured Mammoth.

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This took us about 1.5 hours to walk through and by the time we got back, a few of us were already turning red, none more than Kaitlyn of course cause she burns from sitting too close to the window it seems. We were very warm so we were determined to get some ice cream. We waited for about a half-hour in line to get ice cream as the general store was packed with people. This Post-Covid time frame, not a lot of people had masks. We estimated throughout our whole trip, that about 10-15% of the visitors wore masks, young and old. We noted that we saw license plates from all over the U.S., many of them were from California. So it felt nice as though things were getting back to normal.

We get our ice cream and crank the A/C and venture down the road and sort of meander towards our stay for the night in West Yellowstone. We make a few stops along the way.

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And make a stop at Norris Geyser Basin.

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This fumarole was shooting off steam like crazy. It really gave us all the first sense of that amount of heat that must be below us instantly turning water into steam. This video really gives you a good sense of what’s going on. Be patient with it while it loads.

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Take a picture in front of the fumarole, I’m videoing as Heather is taking the picture.
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Kaitlyn, along with her ankle that she injured before we left our house playing with our dog, is now also burnt. Sophie is getting tired and hot and breaking down, so the remaining three of us venture along to a different part of the basin and found this little hidden are.

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The three of us find Kaitlyn and Sophie and hop back into the car and come across Gibbon Falls. This was a pretty falls with a nice, big pull-out and has a little walk to get a few different views of the falls.

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…..ANNNDDD We are goofy again….

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We get in the car and find some wildlife along the way.

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We came across a bridge where there were a bunch of cars stopped and as we passed Sophie and Heather caught a glimpse of a bear that everyone was looking at. By the time we parked and made our way back up the bridge, it was gone. Traffic was getting backed up a bit from this but it wasn’t horrible.

What was horrible is our first real bison traffic jam. We turn at the Madison Junction and try to make the 14 mile trip out of the park when a few miles in we come to a stop. We barely move from time to time. After some time, a ranger goes by with his lights flashing. Probably at least 45 minutes after that point we very slowly come around the corner and see this.

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The ranger is trying to move the herd off the road. As you’ll notice in the upcoming photos, they are moms with their young ones. Taking up the road. People were getting out of their car and standing in the middle of the road taking pictures. For some reason, the lady in the above picture decided to go across the road and down the ditch. Not really sure why.

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Heather popped her head out the sun roof to take these photos.

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It was right about at this point that something spooked the herd. You may be able to tell a couple of them just off the road were just getting startled. All of a sudden the heard took off running. Heather dropped into her seat and we hung onto the dash and the seats of the car. It wouldn’t have took much for one to bump into the other and get pushed into our car. I look in the rearview mirror as they pass and watch people jump into their vehicles and the dust flying behind the herd. It was crazy. I don’t think anyone got hurt. After that point, the traffic was fine. We hit the junction around 6:30, we didn’t get to our hotel until after 8pm. Again, it was only a 14 mile drive.

We stayed at the Days Inn. There were signs all over that they require masks so I had to go back to the car and grab mine for the first time. Interestingly enough, the lady behind the glass counter did not have one on. There were a couple of people ahead of me but didn’t take too long. They really needed peoples license plates so I made sure to know mine. The lady wasn’t overly friendly so I just took care of my business quickly and got the keys. By this time we were very hungry so we grabbed a few things to throw into the room, went to the bathroom after we’ve been now holding it for 2 hours and walked to the closest restaurant we could find.

We walked to Gusher Pizza and Sandwich Shop. It was almost 9 by this point and one of their areas had closed already. We were so hungry that we quickly ordered drinks, two large pizzas, and an appetizer without giving it much thought. The interesting thing about this place is it is run by some Asian people. Not that it’s bad, just normally you would think they would serve some sort of Oriental food. The service was really good. In fact, the Japanese waiter was so nice, we nicknamed him “Daniel” and Ella decided they would be married and live in West Yellowstone together.

As we were waiting for our food, another group sat beside us and were in the same traffic jam. In fact we believe they were right behind us as they saw the stampede happen. He thought the ranger had something in his hand that he was clicking to get the herd to move.

The food came and we determined immediately we ordered way too much. We almost had a whole pizza left by the time we were done but we didn’t care, we were just so hungry. Afterwards, we walk back, unload the rest of the car, shower, prepare for the next day as I want to be gone early again to get to Old Faithful, blow up the inflatable bed (thankfully this room was much bigger than the last) and went to bed.

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